The Stop-and-Frisk Generation

Yesterday?s Silent March to End Stop and Frisk was an affair steeped in history. The 103-year-old NAACP led the way, invoking the spirit of their Silent Protest of 1917, which traveled a similar route down Fifth Avenue to demand an end to lynchings, race riots, and police brutality. The New York Civil Liberties Union, a youthful sixty-one years old, handed out fliers reminding attendees of their Miranda rights and encouraging them to download the organization?s popular new stop-and-frisk reporting app. Ministers and congregations from Harlem?s most venerable churches joined clergy and interfaith groups from around the city along the march. Organized labor was out in force, with members from SEIU, AFSCME, TWU, the UAW, and the UFT coming together as they have for decades, most recently for Occupy and May Day protests. Civil rights leaders and community groups, many well known to New Yorkers from past campaigns, hoisted their signs and took to their feet yet again. As their somber procession stepped off at 3 p.m., the message was clear: a coalition of historic proportions, one worthy of comparison to the great civil rights struggles of the past, has come together to insist that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NYPD end their systematic harassment and humiliation of law-abiding Black and Latino citizens at once.

Marching in stride with all of this living history were hundreds, if not thousands, of young people, their energy palpable even without cheers and chants. Young women in colorful hijabs carried signs protesting racial profiling in English and Arabic. Youth organizers from Make the Road New York, invigorated by President Obama?s announcement of ?Deferred Action? (blocking the deportation of young undocument immigrants), led their organization?s contingent. Sons and daughters celebrated Father?s Day by marching alongside their parents with unions and church groups.

Of the 685,724 people stopped and frisked by the NYPD last year, 87 percent were people of color, and the vast majority of these were young people, often minors. Eighty-eight percent are released without charges, but the incidents leave scars both personal and communal, making fear of police brutality a constant presence in their young lives and the neighborhoods where they live (law enforcement experts opposed to stop and frisk have noted that this fear and distrust makes solving serious crimes much harder). With their presence on Sunday, these youth showed that despite this constant humiliation and harassment, they have not been cowed into silent victimhood.

Opposition to stop-and-frisk policies has been growing for some time, and received a big boost last month when Southern District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin issued a stinging rebuke to the city in granting class-action status to a lawsuit challenging the practice. Under pressure from both the decision and the announcement of yesterday?s march, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly released a department-wide memo in May, emphasizing the need for ?reasonable suspicion? in all stops and urging his officers to avoid ?racial profiling,? while Bloomberg took to a Brownsville pulpit on June 10 to defend the policy while promising a review of its excesses. Though these acknowledgements by Bloomberg and Kelly were indicative of City Hall?s increased attention to the issue, they essentially reiterated the administration?s position that stop-and-frisk tactics are a necessary tool for reducing violent crime. In Brownsville, as he has elsewhere, Bloomberg invoked the specter of the city?s crime-ridden past to curry favor for his policies, implicitly suggesting that residents faced a choice between stop and frisk and a return to the free-fire days of the 1980s. However, the fact that the elected representatives of the districts Bloomberg and Kelly purport to be defending are often the most strident opponents of stop and frisk is instructive. These law-and-order speeches are not, primarily, for the citizens of Brownsville, but rather for the city at large, where Bloomberg and many other politicians still feel that a healthy dose of fear and a tough-on-crime stance is an unassailable combination.

The presence of so many young people on Sunday, however, suggests that the law-and-order coalition in New York City may be passing sooner rather than later. Young men and women like Tyquan Brehon, the Bushwick teen profiled in the New York Times documentary short ?The Scars of Stop and Frisk,? have been criminalized, victimized, and brutalized, and yet they have not been broken. This stop-and-frisk generation will not remember the ?scary 80s? but rather the ?scary 00s,? when the threat of violence came not from addicts but from uniformed officers. While stop and frisk has pulled many of their number into the vicious cycles of the criminal justice system, many others have been pushed into activism. Brehon himself has become an organizer with Make the Road NY, and others like him lead youth-run empowerment efforts across the city. Last fall I stood outside a school?s campus in East New York on the day of the special election in the 54th Assembly District, handing out literature for insurgent progressive candidate and Make the Road organizer Jesus Gonzalez. While many of the adults who came to vote dutifully pulled the Democratic lever (as seven out of eight Brooklynites do in every election) without pausing to hear about Gonzalez?s candidacy, dozens of students stopped to ask if I knew Jesus, or to tell me that they had worked with him or with Make the Road. If these students could have voted, Gonzalez might well have pulled off the upset.

This is the rising generation in New York City?stopped, frisked, but not going anywhere. If Mayor Bloomberg looked out his window on Sunday afternoon (the march ended a block from his residence), he could have been forgiven for thinking he was witnessing the approach of civil rights march from half a century ago. But the future was in that march, and it is a future that will favor leaders who know that despite their respectful silence on Sunday, the stop-and-frisk generation will not be quiet for long.

Photo by Joshua Kehn, 2012, via Flickr creative commons

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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.